02/04/2009, 00.00
KYRGYZSTAN – US – RUSSIA
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Kyrgyzstan to close US air base

Kyrgyz President Bakiev makes announcement after long discussions with his Russian counterpart, who pledges much needed aid. For experts negotiations are underway with Kyrgyzstan trying to get as much as possible as Russia tries to limit NATO presence in Central Asia.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced yesterday in Moscow that the United States must close its military base in Kyrgyzstan. The US Air Force base is a key supply hub for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Us reaction has been cautious. “We are hopeful that we can continue our good relationship with the Kyrgyz government, and can continue to use Manas in support of our operations in Afghanistan,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “It is hugely important air base for us,” he added.

The US military set up the base in 2001 and its role has been heightened as supply routes to Afghanistan from Pakistan become more dangerous.

The US Manas Air Base is currently home to more than 1,000 military personnel.

The Russians, who initially were in favour of the US presence, now want to limit US influence in former Soviet republics, especially in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Experts suggest though that a final decision on the base may come down to money as Kyrgyz authorities try to get the Americans to pay more for renting the base.

Recently the chief of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, indicated that Washington already provided about US$ 150 million in aid to Bishkek per year, including about US$ 63 million “connected to Manas,” Petraeus said.

Before making his announcement President Bakiev held long talks with his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev (pictured: the two presidents), who promised a US$ 2 billion aid package, including US$ 150 million in direct aid to rural areas as well as a loan at a nominal interest rate.

Given that Kyrgyzstan’s annual budget is roughly US$ 1.1 billion, Russia’s assistance would be an unprecedented deal for the poor Central Asian country.

Despite the Kyrgyz decision, Medvedev said that Russia and Kyrgyzstan would continue to cooperate with the United States on its anti-terror efforts in Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama has made it clear that the war in Afghanistan was a priority for US foreign policy.

Russia has hinted that it might allow NATO non-military supplies to travel through its territory.

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